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Effect of Inlet Flow Conditions on Flow Uniformity Within a Fuel Cell Manifold

Faculty Mentor: Lisa Grega

Students: Manthan Kothari & Andrew Specian

Fuel cells have the potential to become the next leader of renewable energy and have been researched in many areas of science to maximize this potential. Over the summer our lab worked with a scaled up model of a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell manifold, in which we used PIV (Particle Image Velocimetry)  visualization to analyze and quantify the complex flow. This is important, as knowing and regulating flow inside of the manifold allows a stack to be used efficiently. An efficient stack allows the proper amount of fuel to be evenly distributed to each cell so as to avoid cells from starving or burning, which is destructive.

In real world applications the feed for a manifold may have bends, which results in asymmetric and or turbulent flow.  Using PIV we recorded and analyzed three inlet pipe conditions; straight, 90 degree bend, and 180 degree bend in multiple planes along the manifold. This was done by seeding the air with tiny oil droplets entering the manifold and using a CCD camera to capture reflected light from a pulsed laser off of the seeded particles in different planar regions. The test section that was observed was 9.5” inches long and each photo capturing session was broken down into four 2.5” wide sections with an 1/8” overlap. Once the raw images were captured, software was used to convert the images into vector files that could be processed to view visual data. The velocity fields of each section were averaged and overlaid to create a full image of the manifold flow field. Additional comparisons of velocity values were created in Excel to provide a more quantitative model. The results revealed that the straight pipe had the most symmetric flow with the highest velocities, the 90-degree pipe bend lower velocities and asymmetric flow, and the 180-degree pipe bend generated the lowest velocities, but a more symmetric flow over the 90 degree scenario.